This has been a good year for me with short story collections. In the Devil’s Territory felt more like a novel, with some of the characters weaving in and out of the different stories. I love when the author does this because you have this sort of “aha” moment when you realize that the relatively minor character in the last story has now come to the forefront to tell his side of things. In this way, it reminded me of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. The beauty of this is seeing the story from many different points of view, and being able to see sides to what is usually a much more complex event than it may have first appeared. For instance, one person could be an undeniable angel to someone, and an unendurable devil to someone else.
It is honestly a testament to the very fine writing in this book that I continued to read despite the fact that one of the stories early on had me almost throwing up — the details were so gruesome and graphically related. The story itself was disturbing, but the writer’s skill was in keeping me just on this side of that fine line (that Allan Gurganus crossed in Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells…way more than I wanted to hear). The devils of the book’s title are not obvious here; they come in the guise of ordinary men and women. They are preachers and children and cold-war heroes, air conditioner repairmen and lonely women. At some point, I think, we are all in the devil’s territory.
The only criticism I had at all was that I wanted more. The book was short, only 220 pages, with some novella length stories. For some of the characters, I would have liked a follow-up, say five years after we left them. They were vividly drawn, and their stories were so compelling that even when the characters were in conflict with each other you were able to empathize with them, even (especially?) the devils among them.